Of the more than 120 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are likely the two you’ve heard about most. Both are used therapeutically for a wide array of symptoms and ailments, though THC is largely responsible for the psychotropic effect, or high feeling, associated with smoking or consuming cannabis.

Other cannabinoids include CBG (cannabigerol), CBN (cannabinol) and THCV. The latter of these, known also by its long molecular name, tetrahydrocannabivarin, is the subject of interest for an increasing number of those in the cannabis industry and beyond, including the California-based bio-pharmaceutical company Liposome Formulations, Inc.

In terms of its applications, Bill Heriot, production manager and head of research and development for Liposome, says, “I would put THCV as a midpoint between THC and CBD.”

The molecular structures of THC and THCV are quite similar, differing only in a side chain of atoms that nevertheless significantly impact the way the two substances interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

For decades, growers have selectively bred strains with higher THC content to maximize their marketability. THCV’s value was not well recognized until recently, and as a result, it is found only in trace amounts within most strains of cannabis grown for medical and recreational purposes today.

Because of its rich therapeutic potential, some people are touting THCV as the “new CBD,” and others, like George Bianchini of Medi-Cone, a grow and retail operation in northern California, are trying to breed higher percentages of it back into certain strains.

… because of its rich therapeutic potential, some people are touting THCV as the “new CBD” …

[Image: Bill Heriot of Liposome Formulations, Inc. and the Medical Cannabis Research Consortium of Marin. Photo submitted by Danielle Simone Brand.]

Benefits of THCV

There is THCV research available via the British Journal of Pharmacology.

Like CBD, THCV appears promising as an anti-epileptic agent, and could also potentially increase motor control while decreasing the frequency and magnitude of tremors and brain degeneration associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and Parkinson’s.

Also similar to its cannabinoid cousin, CBD, THCV has potential as an anti-psychotic and an anti-anxiety treatment particularly effective for panic attacks. In strains of cannabis that contain higher than average levels of THCV, the cannabinoid can modulate paranoia, one of the undesirable effects of THC.

It is also thought THCV may be a potential analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent following research that included treatment in mice.

And, because of its role in promoting bone health and bone formation, THCV has potential applications for treating osteoporosis as well as the bone loss associated with low-gravity conditions, such as in space.

Several studies, including one published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2016, support the idea that THCV can play a role in blood sugar regulation and therefore help treat type 2 diabetes. It is this use of THCV that’s under investigation and development by Bill Heriot and Liposome Formulations, Inc.

It is also known as an appetite suppressant that can block the reward sensations associated with eating unhealthy foods. In other words, it helps prevent “the munchies.”

However, it should be noted that many people who use cannabis medicinally, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or addressing an eating disorder, may specifically seek the appetite stimulation of THC and will therefore do best to avoid strains high in THCV.

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Is THCV psychoactive?

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question.

THCV appears naturally in the cannabis plant in its non-psychoactive form—THCVA (tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid).

Just like THC—which starts out as THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)—it converts to its potentially psychoactive form upon decarboxylation. In other words, when the THCVA molecule is exposed to light or heat, it turns into its psychoactive sister, THCV.

[Read: Hemp Testing 101 to learn more about decarboxylation]

However, in low concentrations, THCV acts a cannabinoid receptor (in this case CB1) antagonist, meaning it won’t actually cause a high. In richer concentrations, THCV becomes a CB1 agonist instead—thereby causing a high that is characterized as slightly different from that of THC.

Some report that the THCV high is stimulating, clear-headed, cerebral and does not last long.

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Strains with higher THCV

Those in medical or recreational states who desire the therapeutic benefits of THCV may seek strains of cannabis flower or extract that are touted for their higher THCV content.

Pineapple Purps, Girl Scout Cookies and Durban Poison are three of those strains, though it’s advised to verify the lab results of any strain meant for therapeutic use.

If vaping, one should note that THCV has a higher boiling point than THC (428 degrees F) and to adjust vape temperatures accordingly.

However, many people who turn to cannabis for specific symptom relief prefer not to experience psychoactive effects.

“From a medical standpoint,” says Heriot, “we’re interested in treating patients. And not all patients want to get high. They just want the medicine to work.”

“From a medical standpoint,” says Heriot, “we’re interested in treating patients. And not all patients want to get high. They just want the medicine to work.”

THCV and bio-pharmaceuticals

The Medical Cannabis Research Consortium of Marin was formed by five people in northern California from across the industry who seek to develop accessible and effective cannabis therapies. In November, they announced that a THCV pill is under research and development by Liposome Formulations and consortium member Bill Heriot (quoted above) as a treatment for diabetes.

Consortium member George Bianchini of Medi-Cone, a California cannabis pre-roll company, grows and provides the 3.5 percent THCV strain called Black Beauty for the research. He uses breeding and environmental conditions to boost the plant’s THCV content and is also experimenting with bringing up the THCV percentages in industrial hemp.

“Look at the path CBD has taken,” Bianchini told Carolina Cannabis News. “For years, breeders were trying to get rid of it in search of the high.”

Now, CBD is widely recognized for its therapeutic value and many growers are scrambling to put it back in. Bianchini said the same goes for plants containing significant levels of THCV: they were all but lost and, now—because of their rarity and value—are becoming highly sought-after.

As a result of the burgeoning interest, strains containing little to no THCV, said Bianchini, are being marketed as THCV products. In other words, the buyer must beware; there’s a long way to go in terms of regulation, standardization and reporting.

But in the right amounts, Heriot says that he and the consortium members have, “high hopes for THCV as a therapeutic compound. Because we can administer this in concentrations rich enough to produce a medicinal effect—but not enough to produce a psychotropic effect—we hope to be able to see it used in many different applications medicinally.”

Legal status

THCV is not listed as a Schedule 1 substance, nor is it listed under any other Schedule—which is to say that, federally speaking, it exists in a legal gray area. However, a bio-pharmaceutical drug containing THCV would cost tens of millions of dollars to even have a chance of receiving FDA approval.

“Right now, of course,” Heriot told Carolina Cannabis News, “cannabis is still federally illegal, but the states are falling like dominoes, and sooner or later I think it will become federally legal.”

Heriot said that most bio-pharmaceutical companies are constrained in their research and development efforts because of their large size, spanning numerous states. They can’t get involved with any cannabis-related work that would “cross state lines.” But with operations and marketing solely in California, his smaller company is on more nimble footing to develop cannabis therapies.

According to Heriot, Liposome Formulations, Inc. has plans in the works to develop a CBD product and a THC/CBD mix in addition to the THCV pill under investigation.

His goal, and that of the consortium, is to make medical cannabis products affordable and effective for a wide variety of people whose health and wellbeing can be positively impacted.

“I think,” said Bianchini, “we’ve only scratched the surface of what this plant can do.”

According to Heriot, Liposome Formulations, Inc. has plans in the works to develop a CBD product and a THC/CBD mix in addition to the THCV pill under investigation.

Danielle Simone Brand

Danielle Simone Brand

Contributor

Danielle Simone Brand, an independent journalist based in California, writes about cannabis, homesteading and parenting. Her work appears on TheWeek.com, Kveller.com and ChopraCenter.com. She is writing for Carolina Cannabis News as Part of our "Voices from the Green Side" series.